Excelling during your nursing clinical rotations

November 20, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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When you first start nursing school, you will be attending classroom lectures and learning skills in nursing labs. Depending on your program, you may also start clinical rotations as early as your first or second semester.


What to expect

Blood Pressure in Tanzania In most cases, students will not get to select where they attend clinical rotations. Nursing programs and healthcare facilities have arrangements regarding how many students they will accept each semester at rotation sites. Usually, decisions on which students will be assigned to what facilities is at the discretion of your program director.

Programs vary on what type of facilities they use. All programs will include acute care hospitals. But some schools may also place students in public health agencies, mental health centers and outpatient facilities.

The length of rotations varies. For example, you may be placed at the clinic site for the entire semester or a specific number of weeks. The shift you work may also vary. Some programs have students work day shift while others may require students to work evening or night shift. Shifts are usually either eight or 12 hours. After you complete one rotation, you will be assigned to your next one.

Although it may seem daunting to start seeing patients so early in your nursing education, it is also a great learning opportunity. There are several things to keep in mind in order to excel during your nursing clinical rotations.


What to do during clinical rotations  

Be on time every shift

Treat your clinical rotations as you would a job. Showing up late is one of the worst things you can do during nursing rotations. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to your site and park. Just as you would with a job, if you have an emergency or need to be out sick, call a supervisor and let them know.

Talk with your clinical instructor if there is a problem

Hopefully, all goes well, but if you have any issues at a clinical site, talk with your instructor. If you feel your preceptors are not helpful or you are not getting enough opportunities to practice skills, talking about it may correct the situation.

Look the part

Adhere to the dress code of your school. In most cases, you will be required to wear certain colored scrubs. The school may or may not supply uniforms. In addition, make sure you know what supplies you need to bring with you. Some hospitals may supply items, such as stethoscopes. But in other instances, you may be required to bring your own. 


You are not expected to know everything during your clinical rotations, but it is helpful to prepare a little ahead of time. For example, if you are rotating through pediatrics, do a little reading about common pediatric conditions and treatments. Once you are assigned your patients, review their medical histories and any other relevant information.  

Ask and answer questions

Classroom lectures can only prepare you so much. Nurses need hands-on experience and patient interaction to learn the profession. You are bound to have a lot of questions, so don’t be afraid to ask, just pick the right moment. Asking about a procedure when the nurse is in the middle of CPR is probably bad timing.

Just as you should ask questions, answer things when you can. Your preceptor and clinical instructor may ask you questions about a procedure, treatment or medical condition. Take the opportunity to show your teachers you know your stuff.   

If you don’t know something, don’t fake it

As a nursing student, you are still learning. During clinical rotations, you may not understand a concept or how to perform a procedure. It is completely acceptable to say you are unsure of how to do something. After all, you are a student and now is the time to ask for help. Don’t fake your way through a procedure. You may hurt the patient. In addition, you cheat yourself by not learning how to do something correctly.

Ask what you can do to help

Sometimes the nurse you are assigned to may get very busy. Ask what you can do to help. It may be small tasks, that don’t provide a teaching opportunity, such as answering a call light or feeding a patient. But pitching in where you can is always a good idea.


What not to do during nursing rotations

Just as there are things you should do during your nursing rotations, there are other things you should not do. Remember, your preceptors and clinical instructor will be grading you on your performance. Also, nurses you will be working with may be your future co-workers, so you want to make a good impression.

Don’t shy away from procedures

If a nurse you are assigned to asks you to assist with a procedure, don’t avoid doing it. If you are unsure of how to do something ask for help. But trying to avoid a situation is not a good idea. Take advantage of your clinical rotations and learn what you can. 

Nobody likes a complainer

You may be tired, have exams and your feet hurt, but keep it to yourself. One way to make a bad impression is by complaining all the time. Some tasks may not be things you want to do, or you may not be happy with the nurse you are assigned to, but complaining won’t likely change things. If you must vent, talk to another student.

Stay out of hospital gossip

Like most workplaces, hospitals and healthcare facilities have their share of drama and it does not always involve the patients. Nurses and staff may complain, gossip or talk about each other. Stay out of it. Nothing good will come out of getting involved in hospital politics and gossip.

Don’t forget your manners

A smile and a thank you can go a long way. At the end of your shift, thank the nurse who was your preceptor for his or her help. Being friendly and polite will get you remembered for the right reasons.